SGH/Jordan Gerard
Johnathan Storlie and Anastasia Wold of the Giants of the Earth Heritage Center work with Ancestry.com to help individuals develop family trees, find ethnic origins and more.
SGH/Jordan Gerard Johnathan Storlie and Anastasia Wold of the Giants of the Earth Heritage Center work with Ancestry.com to help individuals develop family trees, find ethnic origins and more.
At the Giants of the Earth Heritage Center in Spring Grove, a team of people helps families connect to their past and present.

Two of those individuals – Johnathan Storlie and Anastasia Wold – help research DNA samples and find ancestors, ethnic origins, biological family, characteristic traits and more.

“Some people don’t know who their biological parents and grandparents are,” Storlie said. “For them, finding that connection to their biological ancestry is something they’ve been looking forward to their whole lives.”

The process is relatively simple for finding one’s relatives. The testing kit only requires a saliva sample.

“There are cells in your saliva, and every cell has six feet of DNA,” Storlie said.

Only one person in a family needs to give the DNA sample, but a person can get more information if two people from the same family give DNA samples, through a process called phasing.

Storlie explains that if two people from the same family were to give DNA samples, a person can subtract the DNA samples from each other and get at least half of another family member’s DNA.

“It’s really helpful – 25 percent on average is more information,” Storlie said. “I can search the database and figure out which families the father was born into.”

The cost for people to give a DNA sample and get the results is $175, which also allows them a membership to Ancestry.com, which is the website Storlie and Wold use for family trees.

A donation is suggested as Storlie and Wold will sit down with families and go through their results, which usually takes about six to eight weeks to come back.

Storlie said people could do the entire test on their own, but Giants staff will show people how to use the website.

Surnames, cities, census reports, immigration lists and more can be searched on Ancestry.com. Each person who has an account can see their family tree and share it with others. To see other trees, the owner must give permission.

Photos and other documents can also be added to the website and attached to a certain person.

“Most people have a good idea where their ancestry is, but they’re surprised by small percentages of neighboring countries,” Storlie said. “Norwegians can have some Scottish and Irish, even if they lived in Norway.”

He added DNA is interesting to look at how it recombines, “like a patchwork quilt.” Two people could be Irish, but have different Irish characteristics, depending on which ones show up their DNA.

“There has never really been completely identical people,” Storlie said. “It helps you appreciate how genetically diverse we all are. Each person gets dealt a different set of cards.”

Even siblings can be ethically diverse, he added.

People can download their raw DNA data, and it can be mined for information about hereditary traits, such as addiction, cancer, obesity or others.

“It can help you be more proactive of your body,” Storlie said.

That process takes about one to two hours per person, and there is no charge for that, Storlie said.

A pie chart with green, gray and red colors tells a person which genetic traits they do or do not have to worry about.

“Alzheimer’s is probably the scariest to find out,” Storlie said. “But many people never develop it because they trigger the protective factors not to get it or their probability is lower.”

Storlie said it’s important to realize that there’s “not a single person that has perfect genes. Everyone has about 300 to 500 bad genes.”

DNA data can also trace back origins to ancient humans in B.C. and A.D. years by using archaic matches, which would show where a person’s DNA matches that of hominids or Neanderthals.

Storlie and Wold are currently working with Barbara Rae-Venter, who is a genetic genealogy consultant, intellectual property lawyer and professor.

Her ex-husband, Craig Venter, was the inventor of “shotgun sequencing” of DNA strands a decade before it was possible and was listed as the 14th most influential person in the world in 2007.

To find out more about how Giants of the Earth Heritage Center can help find ancestors and more, visit online at springgrovemnheritagecenter.org.